Ro­manc­ing the stone

Vanessa Ber­ridge en­joys the Arts-and-crafts-style gar­den of Wy­ch­wood Manor, Ox­ford­shire

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by An­drew Law­son

The hills around Wy­ch­wood Manor, near As­cott-un­der-wy­ch­wood, Ox­ford­shire, were once cov­ered with wych elms, now long since van­ished, but there is a me­mento of those an­cient trees in a carved roundel of wych elm, en­cir­cled by side-turned slates, on the ter­race of the house. It is this kind of de­tail that makes the manor’s gar­den so rich and in­ter­est­ing.

The Ja­cobean-style house was built in the 1920s by Lord Fur­ness, a ship­ping and steel mag­nate. It looks sub­stan­tial, yet is only one room deep, so when the Wil­mot-sitwells bought the house in 2005, they spent two years restor­ing and ex­tend­ing it, adding a Ge­or­gian wing. This is now en­hanced by Mag­no­lia gran­di­flora and a Veilchen­blau rose, un­der­planted with laven­der, Erysi­mum Bowles’s Mauve and euphor­bia.

Such a drawn-out build­ing project gave the cou­ple, and their gar­den de­sign­ers, Ju­lian and Is­abel Ban­ner­man, the op­por­tu­nity to plan and de­velop a vi­sion of what could be done with the hill­top site. The previous own­ers had tended it lov­ingly for 40 years, creat­ing a for­mal Arts-and-crafts gar­den, with stone balls on every wall and col­umn and with plant­ing de­signed to peak in the au­tumn. ‘I felt rather aw­ful when we started again,’ says Fiona Wil­mot-sitwell, ‘but I wanted a gar­den that would be blowsy, sum­mery and fem­i­nine, with lots of roses, pe­onies and philadel­phus.’

You might not think that ‘sum­mery and fem­i­nine’ are nec­es­sar­ily ad­jec­tives syn­ony­mous with the Ban­ner­man style, but that’s pre­cisely what the de­sign­ers have achieved within a strong frame­work of walls, horn­beam hedg­ing and yew top­i­ary and hedg­ing. In high sum­mer, the gar­den is afroth, the house cov­ered, front and back, with climb­ing Al­béric Bar­bier and San­der’s White Ram­bler roses.

In the bor­ders around the main, walled lawn is a melange of herba­ceous plant­ing—del­phini­ums, gera­ni­ums, irises, nepeta, an­chusa, salvias and sweet-pea col­umns—threaded around roses such Charles de Mills, Cé­cile Brun­ner, Con­stance Spry, New Dawn and

Rosa mundi. Twenty rounded col­umns of yew, al­most in­vis­i­ble in the June riot of colour, give win­ter struc­ture to the wall-backed beds.

The ground had been heav­ily com­pacted by the build­ing work and in­deed the main lawn and a row of pleached horn­beams have had to be re­placed more than once. The long thin house needed to be an­chored in the land­scape, rather than perch­ing along the ridge ‘like a train’, ac­cord­ing to Mrs Wil­motSitwell. Widen­ing the south-fac­ing ter­race to cor­rect the pro­por­tions of house and gar­den has helped. Laven­der now spills out across the stone flags of this ter­race, which is im­por­tant for the out­door liv­ing that the Wil­mot-sitwells en­joy, hav­ing spent time in Hong Kong and South Africa.

How­ever, it’s the trees that are the chief ar­chi­tects of the gar­den’s struc­ture. They are what you no­tice as you ap­proach the house from the north up a steep, es­tab­lished lime av­enue fo­cused on the front door. Eight John Downie crab ap­ples and bushes of

Hy­drangea pan­ic­u­lata have been planted in yew-backed box com­part­ments by the front steps. Annabelle hy­drangeas line the house wall, with four tall, clipped cones of

Prunus lusi­tan­ica set along the ter­race in large wooden Ox­ford planters.

En­ter­ing the house through a cir­cu­lar porch (added by the Wil­mot-sitwells), your eye is im­me­di­ately drawn across the hall to the ter­race, lawn and pond and out to an or­chard of ap­ples, pears and wal­nuts on the hill op­po­site. Much work has been done to open up this prospect, not least the felling of a line of awk­wardly placed trees. The ground was lev­elled be­low the for­mal gar­den and a stream di­verted to feed a lake, which was dug out by Toti Gif­ford, of Gif­fords Cir­cus fame, us­ing his pink and ze­bra-striped dig­gers.

A dou­ble line of yew cones, their tops squared off to help them bush out, stand in an area of rougher grass be­low the walls, con­tin­u­ing the sight­line from for­mal to in­for­mal.

A mas­sive tree-felling and trans­plant­ing ex­er­cise took place else­where, too. Woods en­croached on the west side of the house,

ob­scur­ing the out­look and hid­ing a beau­ti­ful grey At­lantic cedar that is once more a fea­ture of the gar­den. Two hun­dred and eighty trees were trans­planted by a tree spade (which looks like a ce­ment mixer, ac­cord­ing to Mrs Wil­mot-sitwell), with only three lost in the process. Where there was once a dense wood, there is now park­land, vis­i­ble from the new draw­ing room win­dow across a ha-ha. This is framed by a patte d’oie of four

al­lées of horn­beam hedg­ing, each con­clud­ing with an oak. En­trances to the al­lées are marked by char­ac­ter­is­tic Ban­ner­man greenoak col­umns and within the al­lées are com­part­ments of beech, oaks and cedars.

Two other Ban­ner­man hall­marks—pseu­do­clas­si­cal oak gates with tri­an­gu­lar ped­i­ments and an ar­ray of finials—mark the front and back ter­races of the house. An­other is a large, square pav­il­ion, wrapped in Veilchen­blau and Zéphirine Drouhin roses, and with a pitched Cotswold tiled roof. Rem­i­nis­cent of the sum­mer house at Hid­cote, it’s al­most like a band­stand, with a wooden balustrade and steps up to a rat­tan ta­ble and chairs fur­nish­ing the cov­ered area.

Tucked be­hind horn­beam hedg­ing, and punc­tu­ated by more yew col­umns, is a pe­ony walk, a glimpse of fields of­fered down its length through a gap in yew hedg­ing. Here, helle­bores start the sea­son, fol­lowed by pe­onies, in­clud­ing Duchesse de Ne­mours, Kel­way’s Scented Rose, Sarah Bern­hardt and red-eyed Fes­tiva Maxima, in­ter­spersed with white lilies and with Rosa ru­gosa and­pli­cata. Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis and cleomes, grown over the win­ter in the green­house, main­tain in­ter­est later in the sea­son.

Be­low the pav­il­ion is a wall-framed court where the ex­ist­ing pool has been linked by a rill to a tiny cas­cade bub­bling out from be­neath the pav­il­ion. More yew pil­lars ap­pear here among bud­dleias to at­tract bees and but­ter­flies, laven­der and rose­mary for scent and Al­chemilla mol­lis. Rosa Al­béric Bar­bier foams over the pil­lars that frame the gar­den’s cen­tral view.

The Wil­mot-sitwells chose well when se­lect­ing the Ban­ner­mans, for the de­sign­ers have a re­mark­able abil­ity to cre­ate gar­dens with the sense of his­tory and time­less­ness they have given to Wy­ch­wood Manor. An­other view of the Arts-and-crafts gazebo, seen from one side of the volup­tuous dou­ble pe­ony bor­der

I wanted a gar­den that would be blowsy, sum­mery and fem­i­nine’

Above: Yew cones fo­cus the view back to the house. Fac­ing page: In high sum­mer, the house is cov­ered with roses such as R. gal­lica Ver­si­color

Above: The wa­terlily pond fo­cuses on a Lu­tyens-es­que rill and semi-cir­cu­lar ‘source’, be­neath a gazebo in the Arts-and-crafts style. Fac­ing page: A fine cedar pre­sides over new stone walling, steps and carved finials

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